Apple chief executive Steve Jobs drew plenty of "oohs" and "aahs" today as he showed new refinements to the OS X user interface, code-named Aqua, at the conference here. Developers will get a new preview version of the software today, and a "public beta" will come out this summer, Jobs said.
The legions of programmers who sprinted into the convention hall for Jobs' speech were particularly excited as he demonstrated the system's graphics capabilities, including the ability to seamlessly paste a two-dimensional picture onto a 3D object running in a different program.
In addition to highlighting Apple's efforts, Jobs trotted out a version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5 browser and touted the inclusion of Sun Microsystems' Java 2 technology, while Adobe president Bruce Chizen showed a revamped version of the firm's InDesign page layout software.
The sophistication of Apple's graphics was evident in Jobs' demo of the Dock, a window at the bottom of the OS X screen that takes people to opened or frequently used applications and files with a single click. Unopened programs were represented with a photo-quality icon, while actual files were shown in a miniaturized preview version.
Apple's venerable file manager, the Finder, can now be used to preview many document types, including QuickTime movies, MP3 music files and 3D QuickTime VR panoramas, along with still image files.
In another demo, Jobs showed the improved crash resistance in the new OS. Even after he deliberately crashed another program, a QuickTime movie trailer of "Mission Impossible 2" continued playing without a hitch. An error message said that an application had unexpectedly quit but that other programs remained unaffected.
Developers will get their own chance to test the operating system with Developer Preview 4, a preview version released today. Jobs said the revision is everything programmers need to develop software for the new operating system.
"Ninety-nine percent of you will find 100 percent of what you need," Jobs said.
Financial analyst Daniel Kunstler said the refinements to the operating system are a needed next step for Apple to build on the popularity of its iMac and PowerMac lines.
"The hardware has been very cool," he said. "This is very cool, too."
Apple seems to have won converts in the developer world as well. Prominent among those is SGI unit Alias Wavefront, which announced today that it will release a Mac port of its 3D animation program, Maya. Alias executives said people have set up Web sites, launched email campaigns, and staged other grassroots initiatives to get the company to create a Mac version.
Gerard Klauer Mattison analyst David Bailey said Apple appears to have the backing it needs for a strong release.
"Having Adobe and Sun as allies shows they're really forming some strong partnerships," Bailey said.
Apple senior vice president Avie Tevanian also rebuffed speculation that Microsoft's support for the Macintosh is waning. Tevanian said the current browser is a work in progress.
"It's not done yet," Tevanian said in an interview. "For a developer preview, it's fine. It shows (Microsoft's) ongoing commitment."
Tevanian echoed Jobs' statement that developers who prepare great programs quickly will benefit from the significant marketing budget that Apple plans to throw behind the new system software.
"The people who are on board soon (and) do the coolest things will naturally get most of the attention," Tevanian said.